There was a massacre in my kitchen on Tuesday night. The recipe told me to joint the pheasant (“by first removing the legs, then cut away the two breast sections down and along the backbone” – sounds so simple doesn’t it?) and I was ill equipped for such a task. Lesson 1: always get the butcher to joint the pheasant for you (although in my defence I did not buy this particular pheasant from a butcher). Lesson 2: must buy a knife sharpener – this job would have been a hell of a lot easy with a sharp knife.
I’ve never really known what to do with pheasant. There always seem to be an abundance of them around at this time of year. Not least at my father’s house but somehow I think, since jointing the thing was such a heinous experience, I’m probably not up to the task of plucking and gutting. The trouble is you so often eat pheasant and it tastes pretty old, tough and dry. But I remember my cousin Flora cooking this recipe a few years ago and it was absolutely delicious. I photocopied it at the time, and although I have no idea where it came from, having done a bit of research (thank you The Field’s Top 10 Pheasant recipes) it is a traditional recipe from Normandy. Rather glamorously my photocopy calls it ‘FAISAN AU VERGER’…
Enough for 2 (if for 4 there is no need to double all the ingredients, just add an extra pheasant and a bit more stock)
- 1 pheasant
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig parsley
- salt and black pepper
- 1 onion
- 2 sticks of celery
- 5 cox’s apples
- 2-3 level tablespoons plain flour
- 1 and a half oz butter
- quarter pint cider
- 2 tablespoons Calvados (optional)
- 2 and a half fluid oz double cream
Joint the pheasant as above or ask your butcher to do it for you (recommended). Leave the flesh on the bone, so that it will not shrink during cooking.
Put the pheasant carcass, the neck and the cleaned giblets into a pan, together with the bay leaf, parsley, and a seasoning of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with cold water, put the lid on the pan and simmer this stock over low heat for about 20 mins.
Peel and thinly slice the onion. Chop the celery sticks finely. Peel, core and roughly chop the apples.
Coat the pheasant joints lightly with a little flour, and heat the butter in a flameproof casserole or heavy-based pan. Fry the pheasant over a high heat until golden brown all over, then remove from the casserole. Lower the heat and fry the onion and celery for 5 mins. Add the apples and fry for a further 5 mins. Draw the casserole from the heat and stir in sufficient of the remaining flour to absorb all the fat. Gradually blend in the cider (and Calvados if used) and half pint of strained pheasant stock. Bring this sauce to simmering point over low heat.
Put the pheasant back into the casserole, and if necessary add more stock to the sauce until it cover the joints.
Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, and cover the casserole with a lid.
Cook the casserole in the centre of a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees C, for 45 mins or until tender. Remove the pheasant and keep warm in the oven. Boil the sauce briskly on top of the stove – it will thicken slightly. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and adjust seasoning. Return the pheasant joints to the sauce and serve with mashed potatoes.
This really was delicious and felt very seasonal and rustic. We ate it with that delicious Riesling I was banging on about earlier in the week (Parcel Series from Majestic) which was a really fab match. The weight of the Riesling stood up really well to the creamy sauce. The apples bring sweetness yet also acidity to the dish which is why it pairs so well with this wine which has elements of both in it. A Viognier would also have worked well here.
The thing I like most about this recipe is that you use the whole bird with absolutely no wastage. I felt very frugal as it really was cheap as chips (pheasant should only cost £3 a bird or less at this time of year). And even after all that fuss I reckon I did a pretty good job of playing the butcher.